Movie Review: We Are What We Are

This is a day or two after Hallowe’en, but I don’t recall ever thinking that we had to limit ourselves. Horror, the unknown, the supernatural, the all-too-natural… all of that happens year-round. Segregating horror to one month a year, or the eight dark hours of the day, sometimes makes it easier to deal with and sometimes is just another kind of denial. The movie I’m going to review, on one level, takes place in that shadowy realm between what we know is real, what we think is real, and what we really hope isn’t real. It is in some ways a shadow of some of our worst, darkest imaginings, and in other ways, something completely plausible.

The movie is We Are What We Are, a loose remake of the 2010 film Somos lo que hay. I can’t yet speak for the Mexican film, though I’ve been told some of the things that were changed, and I have to confess that I like what they did with the new version. Yes, this is another rare moment when I’ll praise the English-language remake of a film, though since as far as I know, the film I saw was more ‘inspired-by’ rather than a flat-out remake, I don’t think I’m deviating too far from my norm. (And, well, I found some things to like about the English-language Let Me In, though I will still always rave about the Swedish original and the novel.) I’ll update this review once Netflix sends me the original.

But, the movie:  The first thing that struck me was that it’s beautifully filmed. It’s set it upstate New York, in a small Catskills town that’s used to dealing with matters on its own, not to mention its sometimes strange residents. Yet the movie stops well short of becoming a burlesque of ‘Hick Gothic,’ making fun of the strange residents of Flyover Country, and as a person who grew up in one of the USA’s backroads, I noticed and appreciated this. For the most part, everyone in town keeps to themselves, though when the matriarch of the Parker family drops dead in the middle of town, just before a massive storm rolls in, they come together and do what they can to help the family. Said family… older daughter Iris, 14-year old Rose, and young son Rory… already seem a little, well, sheltered when we first meet them. They’ve begun to fast for the weekend, they quote scripture that doesn’t always completely jibe with the Bible, and they above all, seem fearfully respectful of their Father, whom we first really meet when he finds out about his wife’s death. The storm rolls in right around the same time, the daughters go to town to identify her body, and slowly, deliberately, things begin to wash down from the mountains and into the plot.

The ‘twist’ to the movie is fairly obvious by the time it’s halfway finished, though the exact way the family goes about doing what they do is still a bit of a shock. Things that were mentioned or glossed over in the beginning as just little quirks of the Parker family suddenly take on a different meaning. Yet, except for the final reel, there are few conventional “GOTCHA” moments. This is a slow (but not boring) deliberate film that is just as focused on creating an atmosphere as it is telling a story. To this end, the acting and the camera work are just as good as they can be. I definitely recommend seeing this in the theater if you can… though when I went, it was raining in Atlanta, and walking out of the drizzly setting of the movie into drizzly Midtown was a bit unsettling. The creep factor was only accelerated when I got home and realised that Bill Sage, who plays the patriarch of the Parker family, also left a scar on my psyche with his excellent performance as the Coach in the alien abduction movie Mysterious Skin. He definitely shows in both films that he can play horrible, deviant people in a way that seems everyday, normal, and usual.

There’s one more thing I want to say, but it is most definitely a spoiler. To everyone who hasn’t seen it, go. Be prepared to be entertained, shocked, and creeped out by the end of this nearly perfect American Gothic-style movie.

Rating: 4 of 5

WTFs: 5 of 5. I actually found myself saying that at one point.

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